My father is a Muslim immigrant from Iraq. I was raised by him and my mother, an American-born Christian, in the suburbs of Chicago.
My mixed heritage makes President Trump's attitude toward Muslims very personal to me. As a candidate, Trump proposed a ban on Muslim immigration to the U.S. Since taking office, he has sought to impose a ban on Iraqi immigrants.
Had either ban been in effect in the 1960s, my father, who taught college physics to thousands of American students, would not have been allowed into this country. My Dad's cousin, an Iraqi doctor who has treated countless Americans suffering from heart disease, would also have been banned.
My father, his cousin, and millions of other Muslim immigrants have made important contributions to American society. We should not turn away people of the Muslim faith who would contribute to our country because some terrorists have adopted a twisted version of Islam.
I support efforts to defend the U.S. against terrorism committed by Muslims, Iraqis, or anyone else. But we should not adopt policies that stereotype all Muslims or all Iraqis. Instead, we should protect this country in a way that is consistent with American values.
America is a nation of immigrants. People from around the world have come to this country because of the promise that success in America is not based on one's race, religion or ethnicity, but rather on one's character and abilities.
As a child, I dreamed of becoming an elected official. My dad worried that I might encounter bias because of my Arab name, but when I ran for this office, my community gave me a fair opportunity to present my candidacy, and ultimately elected me township assessor. Giving people a fair chance to achieve their dreams is what America is all about.
But fairness is missing in Donald Trump's approach to Muslims. Even though no Iraqi immigrant has ever carried out a terrorist attack in the U.S., Trump seeks to impose a 90-day ban on immigrants from Iraq and other Muslim countries. After 90 days, he plans to replace the effective system for vetting immigrants currently in place with "extreme vetting."
I suspect the "extreme vetting" will be so onerous that it will operate as a ban.
President Trump justifies these new measures by noting that there are terrorists in Iraq and other Muslim countries. Although this is true, I would add that every religious, racial and national group has some members who resort to violence. Those same groups, however, also have members who demonstrate creativity, genius and love. The challenge for all human beings is to overcome the darker impulses that lurk within so that, as President Lincoln put it, "the better angels of our nature" can flourish.
Terrorists have succumbed to the violent side of human nature and pose a serious threat. But in addressing the threat, America itself must not give in to dark impulses by scapegoating innocent people or assuming that only people with my father's religious and ethnic profile engage in terrorism and violence.
People closer to my mother's profile — American and Christian — also engage in violence and terrorism. Timothy McVeigh killed 168 Americans in an Oklahoma City terrorist attack. And America has more violence that is not called terrorism: our murder rate is much higher than in Canada or Europe, and we have been plagued by mass shootings in schools, movie theaters, and elsewhere.
A foreign leader with an attitude similar to President Trump's might conclude that Americans are violent, and seek to restrict our visits to their countries. Putting all Americans under suspicion for the violent acts of a few would be unfair — but it is no more unfair than Donald Trump's attitude toward Muslims.
The appropriate response to terrorism was demonstrated in Oklahoma City. We punished Timothy McVeigh and those who helped him carry out the attack. But we did not put innocent Americans under suspicion just because they were raised in the same religion as Timothy McVeigh or came from his home state.
The capacity for good or evil is not limited to one group; it exists in all human beings. America's Declaration of Independence recognized this when it proclaimed that "all men are created equal." President Trump should heed the wisdom contained in America's founding document.
Ali ElSaffar is an attorney who has served as Oak Park Township Assessor since he was first elected in 2001.
Answer Book 2019
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